Homes for street people

Homes for street people

VERENAISI RAICOLA
Thursday, October 25, 2007

Rescue Missions Jekope Serukalou, standing right, and Samisoni Lalavave are pictured with some of the street dwellers who come to their mission in Suva

Rescue Missions Jekope Serukalou, standing right, and Samisoni Lalavave are pictured with some of the street dwellers who come to their mission in Suva

The term street kids’ describes children and adults who live or work on the streets.

In Fiji some street kids are based at home, some live in groups, some sleep on benches, in parks, abandoned buildings or church verandahs.

Most times these kids or adults could be exploited because of their vulnerability.

Some people could also gain from the street people’s situation by posing to help them or be "Good Samaritans".

That is why there is a need for the Government to check out the backgrounds of people who set up homes for the street kids as in the past some have been known to have their own agendas according to social workers.

Fiji Council of Social Welfare executive director Hassan Khan said proper counsellors are needed to work with street people and the Social Welfare Ministry should ensure that.

He said the council was aware of some cases of exploitation and a few were known to the department like self-styled saviours setting up fundraising web sites to solicit money as well as posting photos of victims’.

He said those who wanted to establish missions for street people should promote the strengthening and development of families as a proactive solution.

Mr Khan said already there were several mostly religious organisations and some were making a difference.

"Such actions take time; besides there is no regular funding from any source for any civil society organisation to do constructive and productive work in this area," he said.

Mr Khan said the increase in the number of street children indicated the failure of Fiji’s education and economic systems and the lack of social planning in developing a safety net for them.

Another looming issue was the care and protection of older street persons.

Psychotherapist Selina Kuruleca, who echoed similar sentiments, said there was an urgent need to monitor those that operated homes for street kids.

She said professional counselling was needed for the street people.

Ms Kuruleca said there were no regulations in place so the area of such work was kind of "free for all".

"It is a worrying trend and would be addressed in the new Family Law Act that requires that those providing counselling need a licence," she said.

Ms Kuruleca said TPAF was drafting some regulations to ensure some framework was in place for those that opened up such initiatives.

Training and Productivity senior quality framework officer Selai Qereqeretabua, who like Ms Kuruleca believes that a framework would help control such homes, says they were working on a policy to ultimately cover every organisation.

"This qualification framework would ensure quality training for street kids is provided by those that claim to offer training," she said.

Ms Qereqeretabua said the policy would ensure that quality service was delivered especially in situations where someone turned up overnight and set up a home to eventually ensure street people were trained to obtain qualifications.

Former Social Welfare CEO Emele Duituturaga said some people could simply take advantage of street people.

She said even though some people had "bleeding hearts" to do good, the fact was that someone needed to scrutinise programs offered by such homes to make sure the street people benefitted.

"Vetting is needed because some could use the name of family or church yet abuse children sexually or emotionally," she said.

From her experience the only sustainable solution for street people was to link them back to their family.

She said the ultimate solution in Fiji was to network children or adults back to their families and communities.

Ms Duituturaga said from her experience children were pushed out of their homes because of poverty and often welcomed any roof over their heads.

"Kids at the end of the day need to be placed in school, have a job and mend their relationships," she said.

She said instead of setting up new initiatives people could link up with the existing services.

"The problem is that there is no law that says you cannot set up a home but there is a law that protects children," she said.

Ms Duituturaga said social workers needed to be accountable to authorities.

She said the Chevalier Hostel was a good example of an unsustainable home and the Ministry of Social Welfare stopped giving it funds because there was a problem regulating accountability.

"It is a pity because vulnerable people could just be exploited," said Ms Duituturaga.

Last month Jekope Serukalou of Rescue Mission Community Association came out public about assisting street kids and adults.

He and his wife leased a property at 29 Gorrie Street for the next five years for $1000 a month to cater for these people and hope to eventually own the property as well as renovate it to include a gym and other facilities.

Jekope who felt it was a divine calling said the only cash they had was from his wife’s salary, sponsors, donors, friends and family overseas.

He said different groups pitched in with food items and their daily budget was $100 a day on food alone.

The organisation provides for 30 to 50 people from 10 to 50 years with breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as a sleep over facility in the run down five bedroom timber home in Suva.

There are three school students and five staff who live permanently at the house.

There is also a single mother and her 10-year-old son.

Jekope does not ask children about their parents because they are a rescue mission which offered the street people hope regardless of who they were contrary to what professionals in Fiji believe was the way to handle the situation.

"It takes time to build a relationship and to understand the children," he said.

"Some have been rejected and others have been pushed aside by their family or community so we receive people just as they are."

Jekope who is not a qualified counsellor had pastoral training from the Assemblies of God Bible School and claims to have experience with a mission association in the United States of America where he lived for nine years.

"Basically I know this ministry inside out, serving homeless people and was inspired to do this after seeing a great need for it in Fiji," he said.

"Street kids, shoe shine as well as wheelbarrow boys are mushrooming all over Suva."

He said this need was overlooked by the government and different churches despite the increasing number of denominations that professed to do the work of God.

Jekope put together a spiritual program called discipleship that he follows through with his new found flock.

On Tuesday and Wednesdays there are guitar and piano classes.

The idea, he said, was to teach the kids some skills and eventually get them off the streets.

Jekope hopes funding from AusAid, the EU and the Ministry of Social Welfare would eventually allow him to pay his staff and buy items like a wa
shing machine, clothes dryer, fridge, deep freezer, computers, projector, photocopier, laser printers, ovens, fans, typewriters, towels and toiletries.

They would also use the funds to buy and renovate the home.

He preferred to keep their church affiliation a secret not to discourage any group or denomination from pitching in.

"We want to keep our affiliation a secret because we are not serving only a particular group of people," he said.

"It is an open door policy for everyone.

"Once we say who we come under it would deter other denominations from helping.

"Parents are not involved because our objective is to develop the kids only and them being on the street shows they are unwanted from their homes."

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